William Petty, 1st Marquis of Lansdowne, 2nd Earl of Shelburne papers  1665-1885
full text File Size: 147 K bytes


William Petty, 1st Marquis of Lansdowne, 2nd Earl of Shelburne (1737--1805), hereafter referred to as Shelburne, was born in Dublin, Ireland, to John Fitzmaurice Petty (1706-1761) and Mary Fitzmaurice (d 1780). He served with distinction in Germany during the Seven Years War, achieving the rank of colonel and in 1760, he became King George's aide-de-camp. Later that year he took over his family's seat in Parliament representing Chipping Wycombe. After his father's death in May 1761, he entered the House of Lords as Baron Wycombe, second earl of Shelburne. During his tenure in the House of Lords, Shelburne served as first lord of the Board of Trade (1763), as secretary of state for the Southern Department, as home secretary under Rockingham (March-July 1782), and as prime minister (1782-1783). As an official dealing with American affairs, a stockholder in the East India Company, and a landowner in Ireland, Shelburne was involved in many of the major issues affecting the British Empire in the mid-eighteenth century.

Though shrewd and ambitious, Shelburne frequently allied himself with unpopular politicians, such as John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, and William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and often found himself in the opposition party. Shelburne also advocated for controversial policies such as free trade, religious tolerance, and parliamentary and fiscal reforms, which contributed to his unpopularity. In 1763, Shelburne became first lord of the Board of Trade and played an important role in drafting the regulations for England's newly acquired empire in North America. He opposed the Stamp Act and supported its repeal. As secretary of state for the Southern Department during the Chatham administration (1766-1768), he oversaw America, India, and Ireland, and had diplomatic responsibilities to France, Spain, and other southern European countries. He was at odds with many of his colleagues, particularly for wanting to avoid tax increases for America. After resigning from the office, he spent the next 14 years as a leader of the opposition party and as an outspoken opponent of the war with America. In March 1782, Shelburne accepted the appointment of Home Secretary under Rockingham. Upon Rockingham's death in July 1782, Shelburne became prime minister, and directed the peace negotiations with the American commissioners that resulted in the controversial 1783 Treaty of Paris. Parliament disapproved of the treaty's terms and, in March 1783, Shelburne resigned, making way for the North-Fox coalition.

After the end of his political career, Shelburne remained well informed on international affairs, commissioning reports on Europe and other foreign powers' finances and military forces. He amassed a sizable collection of books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, maps, prints, statues, and other material related to art, science, and politics. He associated with, and was a patron of, many of the most learned men of his time, including Benjamin Franklin, André Morellet, Joseph Priestley, Adam Smith, and Jeremy Bentham.

Shelburne married twice, first in 1765 to Lady Sophia Carteret (1745-1771) and then to Lady Louisa Fitzpatrick (1755-1789) in 1779. He was created marquis in 1784, assuming the title of 1st Marquis of Lansdowne. He died in 1805 and was succeeded by his son John, 2nd Marquis of Lansdowne (1765-1809).

Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 4th Earl of Kerry, 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne (1780-1863), was the son of Shelburne and his second wife Lady Louisa Fitzpatrick. He served as chancellor of the exchequer from 1806-1807 and, in 1809, succeeded his half brother John to the Lansdowne title. From 1830-1841 and 1846-1852, Lansdowne was lord president of the Council. He married Louisa Emma Fox-Strangways (1785-1851) in 1808. The couple maintained correspondence with friend Reverend William Lisle Bowles (1762-1850) and his wife Magdalen Wake. William was the vicar of Bremhill, Wiltshire, from 1804 to 1850, and the chaplain to the prince regent in 1818. He was also a famous poet and literary critic.

Italian politician and Dante scholar James Lacaita (1813-1895) was born in Manduria, Italy, and practiced law in Naples. In 1840, Lacaita became a legal advisor to the British legation in Naples. Though a moderate liberal, he was arrested in 1851 for supplying the British government with information on the new Bourbon autocracy. Escaping arrest, he left Italy for Edinbugh and married Maria Clavering Gibson-Carmichael. Their son, Charles Carmichael Lacaita (1853-1933), later became a Member of Parliament from 1885-1888. James Lacaita and his family moved to London and he taught Italian at Queens College from 1853 to 1856. Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne, employed Lacaita as his personal secretary between 1857 and 1863. In 1860, Lacaita returned to Naples to represent Bitonto in parliament, and in 1876, he became an Italian senator. He died near Naples in 1895.